Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

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TDCJ - Death Row facts and history


Average time on death row: 8 years and 10 months.
Average age of executed inmates: 37.
Cost per day per inmate: $59.98.

Longest time on death row: Robert Excell White, born March 14, 1938, arrived from Collin County in August 1974 (housed at Ellis as of April 24, 19. White killed three men execution-style at a grocery store near McKinney on May 11, 1974.

Shortest time on death row: 8 months and 18 days. Joe F. Gonzales, born Nov. 17, 1960, arrived from Potter County on Jan. 10, 1996 and was executed on Sept. 18, 1996, after waiving his appeals. Gonzales, a general contractor, was convicted in the shooting death of 50-year-old William J. Veader on October 19, 1992 in Amarillo.

Youngest arriving on death row: Age 17. Curtis Paul Harris, born Aug. 31, 1961, arrived from Brazos County on June 7, 1979 and was executed on July 1, 1993. Harris killed Timothy Michael Merka with a tire tool on Dec. 11, 1978.

Youngest executed: J. Kelly Pinketon, age 24, born Feb. 14, 1962. Executed May 15, 1986. Arrived from Potter County on June 29, 1981. Pinketon killed Sarah Donn Lawrence during a robbery with intent to commit rape in Amarillo on Oct. 26, 1979.

Oldest executed: Ignacio Cuevas was 59 when executed on May 23, 1991. He was born on July 31, 1931. He arrived from Harris County on May 30, 1975. He shot and killed two hostages in an escape attempt with Fred Gomez Carrasco at the Huntsville Unit prison library on July 24, 1974.

Longest on death row before execution: Billy Joe Woods, born Dec. 20, 1946. Arrived from Harris County on Oct. 10, 1975. Executed on April 14, 1997. Woods was convicted of raping, brutally beating and strangling a 62-year-old disabled woman. Woods was the suspect for a similar attack on a Louisiana woman who survived.

First woman executed by the state of Texas: Karla Faye Tucker, born Nov. 1, 1959. Received from Harris County. Executed Feb. 3, 1998. Convicted of capital murder in the June 1983 pick-ax slaying of 27-year old Jerry Lynn Dean at the victim's Houston apartment. Tucker testified that she and accomplice Daniel Ryan Garrett sneaked into the apartment and confronted Dean when Garrett began beating Dean on the head with a hammer. Tucker said she struck Dean in the back with a pick-ax and upon discovering Dean's companion, Deborah Thornton hiding under some covers in bed, hit her with the pick-ax. Tucker left the weapon embedded in Thornton's chest. Daniel Ray Garrett died of natural causes while in custody of the Harris County Sheriff's Office in June 1993.

First victim's family to witness execution: Feb. 9, 1996, the Kelley family witnessed the execution of Leo Jenkins, who shot the brother and sister of the Kelley family in the head during a robbery at the family-owned Golden Nugget Pawn Shop in Houston on Aug. 29, 1988.


Death row was located in the East Building of the Huntsville Unit from 1928 until 1952. From 1952 until 1965, death row and the electric chair were located in a special building by the East Wall of the Huntsville Unit. The men on death row were moved from the Huntsville Unit to Ellis in 1965. There, they are housed in both single (5 feet by 9 feet) or double cells. Death row inmates receive a regular diet, have access to television, magazines, books and legal materials. The same mail rules apply to them as to the general population. Inmates on death row do not have regular TDCJ-ID numbers, but have special death row numbers

Execution history
Hanging was means of execution between 1819 and 1923. Prior to 1923, Texas counties were responsible for their own executions, thereafter all executions were ordered to be carried out by the state in Huntsville.
Electrocutions were means of execution beginning February 1924. When capital punishment was declared "cruel and unusual punishment" by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29, 1972, there were 45 men on death row in Texas and 7 in county jails with a death sentence. All of the sentences were commuted to life sentences by the governor of Texas, and death row was cleared by March 1973.

In 1973, revision to the Texas Penal Code again began assessing the death penalty and allowed for executions to resume effective Jan. 1, 1974. Under the new statute, the first man was placed on Death Row Feb. 15, 1974, John Devries, No. 507, white, born Nov. 19, 1920. Devries was convicted of murder with malice while committing burglary in Jefferson County. Devries committed suicide July 1, 1974 by hanging himself with bed sheets.

On Aug. 29, 1977 Texas adopted the new method of execution from the electric chair to lethal injection.

Dec. 7, 1982, Texas became the first state to use the method of lethal injection, executing Charlie Brooks of Tarrant county for kidnap/murder of a Fort Worth auto mechanic.

One of the most notorious inmates to be executed was Raymond Hamilton, member of the "Bonnie and Clyde" gang. He was sentenced from Walker County and executed on May 10, 1935, for murder. Hamilton and another man escaped from death row, only to be returned.

Brothers executed by Texas include:
Frank and Lorenzo Noel electrocuted July 3, 1925.
Oscar and Mack Brown electrocuted July 1, 1936.
Roscoe and Henderson Brown electrocuted May 6, 1938.
Curtis Harris by injection, July 1, 1993.
Danny Harris by injection July 30, 1993.
San Patricio County hung Chipita Rodriquez on Nov. 13, 1863, six days after being found guilty for the murder of a horse trader, subsequently found innocent. Quarter-century later the murderer of the horse trader confessed while he was dying that he committed the crime.

Electric chair history facts:
There were no woman executed by electrocution.
Texas authorized use of the electric chair in 1923.
The electric chair, which was used in Texas from 1924 through 1977, was the original chair built from oak in 1923-24. The electric chair, "Old Sparky," was located behind the chapel in the Huntsville Unit, now housed at the Prison Museum.
The electric chair was first used on Feb. 9, 1924, executing five men on that date in the following order:
Charles Reynolds Black, Red River County, murder.
Ewell Morris Black, Liberty County, murder.
George Washington Black, Newton County, murder.
Mack Matthew Black, Tyler County, murder.
Melvin Johnson Black, Liberty County, murder.
Between February 1924, and July 1964, a total of 506 men and women were placed on death row in Texas; of those, 361 men died in the electric chair. Of the 361, 229 were black, 108 white, 23 Mexican American.
Texas executed its last inmate by electrocution on July 30, 1964: Joseph Johnson from Harris County for murder.

(source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division)